Middlesborough v Barrow AFC 3rd Round FA Cup

On Saturday I delivered my Christmas present to my 14 year old football mad nephew – a trip to the Riverside to watch Barrow AFC take on Gareth Southgate’s Premiership strugglers Middlesborough in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Along with 6,998 others we left Cumbria and in our case travelled by coach to Middlesborough.

The policing has to be seen to be believed. We were escorted by a police motorcyclist to a layby six miles away from the ground and after a cursory search for alcohol (it’s not allowed) queued up to be escorted in convoy. Police outriders stopped traffic on the feeder roads as thousands of hopeful barrow fans were shepherded to the ground.

Once inside, alcohol was freely available, but I guess from a police point of view that doesn’t cause a problem. As I was a bit late buying our tickets, we were seated close to the Middlesborough singing section in the seats usually reserved for their season ticket holders.

On a chilly day, we watched the two sides warm up for half an hour or so and then it was kick off time. The difference in class was obvious from the outset, but Barrow played well and Middlesborough showed why they are struggling as they wasted chances in front of goal. Noticable for me were the Barrow punts down the right wing channel out of defence which no one seemed able to pick up. I’ve seen this tactic used at Holker Street to good effect, but on Saturday the ball was just picked up by the opposition.

Barrow held them at Bay until great work from the impressive Stuart Downing set up an Alfonso Alves goal on 23 minutes. The same combination made it 2-0 shortly after the half time break and it was always going to be an uphill struggle for barrow from there.

Keeper Alan Martin on loan from Leeds United, kept Barrow in the game with a string of superb saves then on 80 minutes the hard work of the Barrow team was rewarded with a goal from Jason Walker. 7000 Barrow fans rose as one to applaud the goal and the dream was back on. Shoes off if you love Barrow.

The tension in the home team and fans was obvious as a possible upset loomed and the last 10 minutes plus 7 minutes of injury time were sphincter tightening ones for the home fans as barrow pressed hard for an equaliser. They came close too, but in the end the full timers shaded it. Premiership, you’re having a laff.

A great day out on which the Barrow team did themselves proud and which has my nephew enthused about going to Holker Street, to watch the weekly struggle for Blue Square Premier League survival.